To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Lumière Brothers' invention of motion picture photography in 1995, Philippe Poulet, who restores the original Lumière cameras at the Lyon Cinema Museum in France, asked 40 big-time international directors to make their own "Lumière" film. Each director used the original cameras to make a movie the same way they were made in 1895: a single, 52-second shot in black-and-white, with no synch sound and no artificial lighting. Working with cinema at this most basic, perhaps purest form, it's fascinating to find out which directors rise to the challenge and which just tank.
On the plus side, we find a little comedy by Jacques (Celine and Julie Go Boating) Rivette about a little girl, a rollerskater, and a man reading the paper--who would've thought Rivette could still express himself so nimbly, and in under three hours! Romanian Lucian (The Oak) Pintilie makes a tiny masterpiece involving a helicopter, a bridal party, and a football stadium, which does good by the overused term "Felliniesque." John (Exorcist II: The Heretic) Boorman visits the set of Michael Collins and uses Stephen Rea, Aidan Quinn, and Liam Neeson for a 52-second movie that bests that bloated epic and shows those guys would've been great in silents. The African village horror-comedy from Burkina-Faso's Idrissa Ouedraogo looks like it was shot sometime before the Lumières invented movies; and David Lynch's mad-scientist-and-zombie-breaking-the-bad-news-to-the-parents police drama is far better than Wild at Heart.
On the minus side are Peter Greenaway's murky, pointless bore and Spike Lee's shot of his baby (pictured above) that gives amateur videography a good name. Costa-Gavras, of Z fame, provides Lumière and Company's low point, a PC cutefest that UNICEF would reject. But even the failures are beautiful to look at. Lumière and Company brings back an age when camera and film stock themselves were the auteurs--maybe Hollywood should give that fancy Panavision equipment to the museum in Lyon and go back to using the Lumière cinématographe, too. (Available through Orion Home Video, 1888 Century Park East, Los Angeles, CA 90067-1728; 310-282-0550)